Michigan State enters rugged stretch with injury issues at point guard
As Tom Izzo pointed out on Thursday, this isn’t a good year to be average, not when the Big Ten is as good as it is from top to bottom.
The Spartans, who had won at least a share of three straight conference championships entering the season, fully expected to be in that position again. However, things have crumbled after a perfect no nonconference run. Michigan State enters Saturday’s game at Indiana heading toward the first sub-.500 conference record in Izzo’s tenure and almost certainly will be sitting out the NCAA Tournament.
“The conference is so good this year that you just look ahead and you say, ‘Wow,’” Izzo said. “I mean, we’re going to play four games — Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday — and I think two of them, for sure, are against top-five, top-six teams (in the country). We’ve gone Big Ten seasons where we’d play two top-20 teams twice in the whole season.
“So, it’s probably a bad year to be an average team that needed to get better in the offseason.”
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While the remaining schedule offers opportunity over the final seven games, there are also no breaks, no opponents that aren’t going to be favored against the Spartans. And Michigan State (10-9, 4-9 Big Ten) will attack at least the next handful of games short-handed at point guard, a position that has been a problem all season.
Izzo said on Thursday that junior Foster Loyer will miss the next two games for certain and likely be out the entire week, missing the next four games as he tries to overcome a shoulder injury he first suffered back on Jan. 2 against Nebraska.
“He just needs a week to try and get that thing settled down,” Izzo said. “There’s some guys that just get surgery, and he doesn't want to leave his teammates. He doesn’t want to feel like he's bailing out on a season, so he's not going to do that. We’re just going to give it a week.
“What does the week mean? Does it mean next Thursday he could possibly play? Does it mean it won't be until the weekend, or would it be after the four games? That I don't know yet, but I know it won't be this weekend or Tuesday, for sure.”
While the injury first occurred early last month, it got worse in last week’s victory over Penn State. Loyer, who played the last two games wearing a brace on the shoulder, saw 20 minutes of action against Iowa on Saturday, but managed only two minutes on Tuesday at Purdue.
“The first second he was in there he shed a cross screen and he just knew then that he couldn't do anything with his left arm,” Izzo said. “It’s too bad because the kid was so good on the bench the other day. He knew every call, every play, and as I’ve said, he’s the best guard I’ve got at running a team. He knows everybody's position, but it is what it is. … We decided it probably should be at least a week to see if we can settle it down and go from there.”
While Loyer will be out, Izzo is optimistic that fellow guard Rocket Watts is close to 100%.
He left at halftime of the Iowa game feeling sick and was unsure if he could play at Purdue just hours before the game but ended up giving the Spartans 12 minutes.
“I think he's finally over it,” Izzo said. “Yesterday he was feeling the best he's felt in five days. I think it was just a flu bug. It wasn't anything with COVID, but when you're throwing up it dehydrates you and he went through that for a few days. So, I think he's back on track.”
The news means freshman A.J. Hoggard will continue to get plenty of playing time, but Izzo said he’ll also look to use Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford more running the offense as he did late in the game at Purdue.
Henry said he’s comfortable playing wherever he’s needed, and understands that even as the season is going in the wrong direction, it won’t affect the approach to each game.
“We still have the opportunity to play and it may not be pretty, but we're not gonna just sit here and try to take the elephant out of the room,” Henry said. “We have to address it and look at it for what it is, and try to attack it as best as possible. You can't put your head down or go away from a problem. You’ve got to deal with it face up like a man and just try to take care of this and just try to be as prepared as possible, approach every day like you're trying to win it. Even though things aren’t going our way, it doesn't mean you stop trying. It doesn't mean to not give it your all.”